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Various Artists – This Is How We Roll

When curating a compilation, the idea of ‘voice’ can be tricky. Keysound Recordings founders Dan Frampton and Martin Clark (a.k.a Dusk & Blackdown) has been heavily integrated in promoting and curating the growth of the reputable label – partially through their weekly show on Rinse FM and extensive interviews carried out on the Dusk & Blackdown blog. Yet at the same time, they’ve displayed an aversion to heavy-handed promotion; perhaps stemming from that fear that naming whatever unknown energy is swirling around Keysound’s roster would only serve to dissipate it.

Or maybe they’ve circumvented needing to publicize themselves by focusing more prominently on scenes that spawned and originated the mutated dubstep, funky and 2-step sounds that the label flaunts. Though Dusk & Blackdown’s “This Is London (2011 Riots Remix)” doesn’t show up on this compilation, it’s an interesting example of Clark’s intuitive knack for letting the culture surrounding a genre of music speak up. “This Is London” overlays pertinent street commentary on the London riots with a teeth-gnashing bassline. Comments about the systemic roots of poverty in nearby neighbourhoods are heavy topics to unabashedly put into a dance track, but it doesn’t feel forced, cliche, or paternalistic. Instead, it’s a reminder that Frampton & Clark are not only passionate about music, but also the social and economic conditions that create music.

Various Artists - This Is How We Roll
Various Artists
This Is How We Roll
Keysound Recordings
CD, Digital
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But enough psychogeography, This Is How We Roll is also just a collection of extremely catchy, floor shaking dance tracks. Epoch’s “The Steppenwolf” is the immediate standout on the compilation, a surefire peak-time pleaser. touting orchestral strings reminiscent of old menacing Roll Deep grime instrumentals stretched to the point of dissolution. ODB vocal snippets, rollicking bongos and throbbing vocal modulation fill in the space in between the stabbing violin line. When a vocal source exclaims “y’all can chop my fingers off if y’all can tell me any artist or crew out there that can tear us up,” it feels like a direct challenge issued from the Keysound camp.

Another big moment comes in the form of Wen’s “Commotion VIP”, a slinky, high-tension affair that buries itself in a murky purgatory of bass wobbles and streaking laser emissions. A spliced up grime vocal line makes a strong case for brevity, repeating lines of ‘nothin’ to say, ye?’ and ‘start closing your mouth.’  In addition to working wonders as a utilitarian DJ tool, it’s also a case for sparse production techniques. At a time when dubstep’s trajectory seems hurdling towards messy, overcrowded maximalism, tracks like “Commotion VIP” show how effective sparse, windswept uncrowded terrain can be when surge & growl are exercised in measure. Rabit’s “Satellite” proves the same, elongating and shortening the time intervals between pulsating wobbles. Mumdance & Logos’ “In Reverse” bring their affair to a paralyzing halt as well – a single sustained synth note and pure silence are the only elements carrying the track for over a minute, and the wise utilization of emptiness packs a powerful punch.

The title of Gremino’s “Monster 130 VIP” appears to be the three most searched terms on dubstepforum’s message board at first glance, but it packs all the punch that the combination of those three words in the title would suggest – a smashed up, staggering beast of a tune, blurring the lines between grime and dubstep with its hammering, unpredictable bassline. Likewise, Double Helix’s “LDN VIP” is exactly the kind of tune you’d hear on Rinse late at night and find forums full of individuals pining for the morning after. Similarly, Fresh Paul’s “Blaster” is chaotic glee from start to finish, suggesting a fallen power line menacingly lashing about the concrete a crowded city street.

Visionist’s flitty keyboard sounds waver nicely on “Dangerous”, only a few demented notes of UK garage sticking to it. The second half of the track sounds like someone recorded a cassette of Mosca’s “Bax” from the radio, and then promptly stuffed the tape in the dishwasher. The disjointed unpredictability ends up being the most enjoyable part of the tune. Moleskin’s “Burst” provides one of the few soothing moments on the compilation, balmy stretched out organs providing a respite from frantic motion. On a similarly positive note, Beneath’s contribution “PVO”  (positive vibes only) finds the mantra “dispel the negative energies” muttered amongst sustained synth shrieks.

It’s difficult to state any weak links in this relatively large fourteen track compilation. Keysound’s heritage has already been proven through appearances from those who’ve risen to the upper eschalons of bass music fame: Zomby, Skream, Kowton and Burial. This Is How We Roll is evidence that they’re still brimming with a fresh-faced lineup of unyieldingly powerful amorphous mutations of dance music. If you listen, you won’t just hear a single hegemonic sound, but a chorus of voices echoing back at you.

Brendan Arnott


1. Visionist, Beneath & Wen – New Wave
2. Beneath – PVO
3. Samrai – Hear Me Now
4. Visionist – Dangerous
5. Wen – Commotion VIP
6. Double Helix – LDN VIP
7. Epoch – The Steppenwolf
8. Dusk + Blackdown feat. Farrah – Lonely Moon (Android Heartbreak drumz remix)
9. Fresh Paul – Blaster
10. Mumdance & Logos – In Reverse
11. Gremino – Monster VIP
12. Rabit – Satelite
13. E.m.m.a. – Peridot
14. Moleskin – Burst